By Tamala Malerk
Chances are if you clicked on this article that you have been made to feel ignored, ostracized, isolated, angered, saddened, or even just plain annoyed by your spouses’ club or FRG (I say both, because in some places it seems like they are one in the same).
Maybe it’s because you don’t have kids, or if you do have kids, you’re ‘different’ from other military parents.
Maybe it’s because you’re not around a lot because of work or school.
Maybe you live off-base so you don’t have the same kind of connections as people who do. Maybe it’s because it seems like you don’t have anything in common with the other spouses.
Maybe you’re an introvert who doesn’t do well when just tossed into a room with a bunch of people and told to fraternize with them. (If you haven’t figured it out, I’m pretty much describing myself here).
If you’ve felt any of the above feelings, just know I too have been burned several times by spouse-related events. My spouse is in his sixth year in the Army and about six months ago we moved to his fourth duty station.
At our first duty station, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The year was 2015 and I came from Lakeland, FL to a brand new state for his 8-month BOLC stint. I was quickly made aware of a spouses’ challenge to run/bike/walk etc. the same amount of miles as our spouses did in BOLC. Sure. Why not? I did the challenge and we had a little end of challenge meeting where we got these bracelets for competing- I noticed that all of the other “challengers” seemed to know each other really well and somehow I ended up in none of the photos. Okay. No big deal. Our next spouse-ly event was showing up at 2 o’clock in the morning at the end of some 2-week Forge and watch the soldiers enact some simulation (remember I was still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and still willing to do stuff like show up for events at 2am). Again, all the other spouses seemed to know each other really well and, for 2am, were quite chatty. I tried to interact with some of them, but to no avail. So, I just kept to myself and tried to find my husband somewhere on the ground amongst the many tall guys in uniform from the rooftop above where they had placed up, also to no avail.
So we move to our next duty station and I am bound and determined to try again; less bright-eyed and not-so-bushy-tailed, but still determined. This is where I first encountered the FRG meeting.
To me, FRG meetings are the epitome of “this could have been an email.” Sometimes there is food, but that rarely compensates for the fact that I have to drive to base, bring a dish, sit through at least one PowerPoint, and listen to a bunch of information that in the end, is not very relevant to me. Ah, but other spouses attend these FRG meetings- maybe I’ll meet my spouse tribe. WRONG. I met a lot of seemingly nice people who, for the most part, just wanted someone who they could have playdates for their children with. I am not anti-child, but not looking for any playdates.
At our third duty station, I wasn’t around much due to work and school and I had lost all the bright-eyed and bushy-ness and resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t a “spouse club” kind of person. The one event I went to was pretty much a combination of the events mentioned above- though I did make it into the group photo. And, I did meet a great woman, who was also away a lot for school and work, and of course our schedules never matched. Alas.
About four months ago, I attend my first hail/farewell for my husband’s new brigade, and I get nervous as the commander’s wife approaches me and asks for my phone number and email so she can forward me information about upcoming spouse events. I give her the information and she hands me a pin with the brigade’s insignia on it and I go back to eating my dinner. Fast forward to about six weeks ago when I get an evite for a virtual spouses’ coffee. I reluctantly agree, because quarantine has left me with little human interaction, and prepare myself for a bunch of talk about kids and on-base life. I log-on the night of Zoom meeting to find the commander’s wife smiling with a glass wine. She goes out of her way to introduce me and have everyone introduce themselves so I don’t feel so alone and out of the loop. There is mix of spouses: working spouses, mom spouses, dog-mom spouses, on-base, off-base, young spouses, older spouses (you get the picture). We all share stories of giving our spouses horrible quarantine haircuts, what our Netflix binges have been, and embarrassing Zoom meeting fails. Two girls had even remembered seeing me at the hail/farewell (which led to my own embarrassment as I had completely forgotten I had spoken to one of them). Everyone was welcoming and it all felt less artificial and superficial than previous spouse encounters have. Before the meeting ended we talked about doing a post-quarantine paint-and-sip and I cannot wait.
The next day, the commander’s wife ran into my husband and handed him a card for me. It contained a personal note and a charm bracelet with two charms: one with the brigade insignia and a laptop. Apparently, for every coffee we attend we get a new charm for the bracelet (the laptop obviously signifying the meeting was virtual).
Suffice it to say, I was reluctant to get involved with my new spouses’ club. Years of “outsider” feelings told me to stay away and that I wouldn’t fit in. Maybe you’ve felt left out for any of the reasons I mentioned above, or your own, and I get it. It seems easier just to not get involved. All I can say for myself is I am so glad I gave it another chance.